There were no surprises at Saturday’s Varsity Cup Eastern Super regional in Annapolis as the two favorites, Cal and Navy, piled up points on their scoreless opponents. At the end of the day it was California over Notre Dame 77-0 and Navy with 32 points to a scoreless Dartmouth.
It was sunny and cool with a steady wind blowing in from the North end of the Navy Marine Corps Memorial Stadium when the 1st game kicked off at 1:30 PM EDT.
The mighty Cal Bears had come to town boasting 22 National titles and 7 out of the last 10 to meet an old rival in Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish went to California back in April of 1967 for a match that was covered in Sports Illustrated as the National College Rugby Championship. Cal won on that day 37-3, foreshadowing the outcome on this day.
With a brilliant display of a multi-phased attack, ball handling skill and a superior kicking game California started full-throttle and never let up. Despite resting most of their usual starters including Captain Senior outside center scoring threat, Seamus Kelly, Cal posted 77 points unanswered against the Irish.
Sophomore Nicklas Boyer ran the offense efficiently from the scrumhalf position feeding the ball to freshman flyhalf Harry Adolphus who kept it moving. Bears fullback Jake Anderson scored 2 tries and added 12 points on conversion kicks. Cal seniors No. 8 Danny Barrett and lock Brendan Daily each added two of their own.
Cal kicked off and scored quickly in the 1st five minutes of the game off a ball stolen from Dartmouth near the half way mark. Anderson’s conversion attempt sailed wide left.
The Fighting Irish showed a bit of a spark next after Notre Dame’s No. 8 went for a ramble across midfield and Cal was penalized for diving over in the ruck. Unfortunately for them, Bobby Mafreda’s kick was off the mark.
Next Cal scored again at the 15 minute mark when a long breakaway run by freshman outside center Anthony Salaber set up a ruck on the goal line and hooker Grant Hyjer pushed it across for the try. The conversion kick into the wind was no good.
The Golden Bears continued a relentless attack through continuous phases and were in scoring position again soon as the Irish fought to hold them off and were finally awarded a scrum close to their own goal line. The scrum wheeled toward the posts and Cal scrumhalf Boyer was able to ground the ball for the try. The kick after was once again deflected by the stiff breeze but it was 15-0.
Three minutes later Cal inside center Eakalafi Okusi found himself unopposed on the wing and ran it in for the score. It was just a few moments later when fullback Jake Anderson found himself in the same situation and scored the first of his two tries for the day. Anderson converted on both and that made the score at halftime 29-0.
Curiously, Notre Dame opted out of an opportunity for points as play continued past the 40-minute mark. The Irish were awarded a penalty after Cal was caught offside on defense near the center of the pitch on their own 22 meter line. Instead of kicking with the wind for a possible three points, or going with their own put-in to a scrum, they opted to kick for touch, ending the half. Coach Sean O’Leary said it was a decision that was left up to the players and that “in the heat of battle they failed to ask the important question which was: ‘is there enough time on the clock?’”
The luckless Irish kicked to California to start the second half leading to a score by Barrett who slanted across the center of the pitch, took the feed from scrumhalf Boyer and evaded a tackler after crossing the line to place the ball between the posts. The point after by Anderson was good.
Just a few minutes later Cal was back down at the tryline and a push to score by Barrett was held up. Scrumhalf Boyer managed to recycle the ball back into the wide side of the field and Anderson grounded it in the opposite corner. He then missed the difficult conversion kick and the score was 41-0 with 30 minutes left to play.
Next Okusi for Cal took the ball around the weak side of a scrum at the half way mark off-loaded to his companion wing sophomore Jesse Milne at the 22m who took it the rest of the way for a long try. Anderson then nailed a difficult kick from the Irish side for the conversion.
At about 60 minutes into the match Notre Dame won a lineout on their own 22m. Irish scrumhalf Sean Peterson tried to clear the ball away with a kick but it was fielded cleanly by Cal No. 8 Barrett, who then rumbled 45 meters up the middle for his second try of the day. Anderson converted making it 55-0
After the kick Bears flyhalf Adolphus chipped the ball ahead and gathered it himself to score a try. Anderson’s kick was good. 62-0 Cal. The California forwards scored from close range next with lock Brendan Daly grounding the ball for his second try of the day. It was unconverted as were the rest of the tries by Andre Coquillard and Carl Hendrickson. The final score was Cal -77 Notre Dame- 0.
After the match Cal coach and American rugby Icon Jack Clark commended the Irish and indicated the final score was not indicative of the quality of competition. “We played into a pretty strong wind in the first half and we got trapped in our own end a couple of times.”
The first 40 minutes were particularly challenging for Cal, added Clark. Cal used the kicking game with some success, and in the end their skill level was something the Irish could not match.
“We want to make teams defend the whole field and having an educated boot is part of that,” Clark said.
Cal rested several of their key players in anticipation of the semi-final next week.
“We were a little banged up so we went with a lot of young guys today and I thought they did OK,” said Clark. “We’ll put in a couple more forwards and change up the back line considerably for next week” when they’ll play Navy.
Under Jack Clark and Tom Billup the Golden Bears have a combined record of 33-1 against the US Service Academies.
Beginning the second half, Notre Dame Coach Sean O’Leary moved his starting scrumhalf to flyhalf and brought in former injured starter Sean Peterson as halfback. This changed the tempo of their offense and improved the flow of their game a bit.
“Obviously a bridge to far for us today,” lamented O’Leary. “To be fair to my players, Cal is a very good side and it showed today. They are playing at a higher standard now and that’s where we want to be. To be the best we have to play the best.”
Tries: Daly 2, Hyjer, Boyer, Okusi, Anderson 2, Barrett 2, Milne, Adolphus, Coquillard, Hendrickson
Convs: Anderson 6
Notre Dame 0
In the 2nd match, Navy’s strategy of keeping the ball in hand and using the middle of the pitch won out against a plucky Dartmouth squad led by All-American flyhalf Madison Hughes that continued the fight to the final tick of the clock and beyond.
Dartmouth actually had the ball over the line as time expired, but were denied.
Navy’s 130-pound wing Brandon Willis made the tackle and wrestled the ball away to deny the consolation score.
The halfback combination of junior Ricky Neel-Feller and sophomore Jack McAuliffe was working especially well on this Saturday. Feller continually recycled the ball to his backs and forwards and cleared the ball from the back of the scrum with kicks and McAuliffe used his boot to the Mid-shipmen’s advantage both for points and kicking for touch.
After his 1st penalty kick went wide under the influence of the wind, McAuliffe opted to go for touch when a Dartmouth player put in a high tackle. Navy won the subsequent lineout at the 5-meter and their forwards drove over the line for the game’s 1st score, 12 minutes into the match. McAulliffe added two points with the kick.
Just before the half expired, a Dartmouth put-in to the scrum was turned over by Navy and after a quick pass Jack McAulliffe went over to score and then converted to give the Midshipmen a 14-0 lead at halftime.
Early in the 2nd half McAulliffe added to Navy’s total when an offside penalty against Dartmouth directly in front of the posts led to another three points.
The rest of the action was all Navy and at 48 minutes, after holding and recycling the ball for several phases, Feller fed the it to McAuliffe, who unloaded to Justin Lamascus for the try.
A McAuliffe penalty attempt after a Dartmouth player was cited for a high tackle went wide left at 57 minutes, but soon after Dartmouth was caught collapsing the scrum and McAuliffe got a second opportunity from 22 meters out in the center of the pitch, and he was successful. That made the score 25-0 with 20 minutes left to play.
On the restart, Navy stole the ball directly from the Dartmouth player carrying it and in support was fullback Ron Helms, who carried it in for the final try. After McAulliffe converted the final score was Navy 32, Dartmouth 0.
The vocal home crowd at Naval Academy Stadium was treated to all the pomp of an Armed Services sporting event with every Navy try heralded by a bagpipe salute provided by Middies Megan Lewis, Jeremiah Fulton and Jerrod Enslin of the Naval Academy Pipes and Drums, who also performed at half time. In addition to the posting of colors and playing of the National Anthem before the first match, we paused before the Navy/Dartmouth game to honor those former members of Naval Academy Rugby who have lost their lives in the country’s service.
Coach Gavin Hickie took over at Dartmouth after Alex Magleby’s departure to head up the National 7s program. He assumes the reins of a club whose origins date back to 1880 and the dawn of American football. “We’re very disappointed. We don’t believe Navy is 32 points better than us, but that’s the way it goes,” he said. “If you don’t execute the basics you’re going to struggle. At the moment, we are our own worst enemy.”
Hickie added that they have a D1-AA title to go for next week and “we’ll learn from this.”
As far as the Varsity Cup goes; “We’ve already got our eyes set on next year” he warned. He commended the player Dartmouth captain and former Marine, Michael Burbank. It was Burbank’s 1st game back after suffering a hand injury during the club’s recent Ireland tour.
Navy Coach Mike Flanagan has been at the Naval Academy for 22years but a National Championship has always eluded his side.
He credited the tandem of Feller/McAullife with leading the Naval attack; “I thought our halfbacks were rock-solid today. Ricky got a lot of good, quick ball and we used it.” Flanagan continued; “We worked to get our centers up the field but Dartmouth had a good defensive pattern on us. We tried some attacking strategies that had worked for us all season and Dartmouth turned them away. Full credit to them.”
When asked about the impending match-up at Cal Coach Flanagan said, “I know it sounds nit-picky after putting up 32 points, but we need to cut down on our mistakes as we meet a really good team out west next week.”
Tries: McAuliffe 2, Lamascus, Helm
Convs: McAuliffe 3